How is a Canadian robot helping rescuers at ground zero?
By KIM LUNMAN, The Globe and Mail
Monday, September 24, 2001
VICTORIA -- Asmall robot made by a British Columbia company is being used to locate bodies in the rubble of what used to be the World Trade Center in New York.
Two robots designed by Nanaimo-based Inuktun Services Ltd. have been credited with finding the remains of five victims in the aftermath of the terrorist attack that has left nearly 7,000 missing and presumed dead.
The Canadian-made robots are among 16 such machines that have been deployed in New York, the first time such technology has been used in a real-life search-and-rescue mission.
About the size of a shoebox, the Micro VGTV is a camera with a microphone mounted on wheels. It acts as the eyes and ears for human rescuers from as far away as 60 metres. It can be navigated by remote control and cable through dangerous terrain and small spaces to help searchers safely locate victims.
Teams of robotic experts in New York have been working with firefighters and searchers at ground zero of the Sept. 11 attack.
The B.C. model, the smallest of the robots being used, has so far been the only machine that has been able to help searchers find bodies. Two of the five victims found were police officers.
"The devastation is so amazingly bad," said Dr. Robin Murphy of the Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue, from the emergency operations centre in New York. "I despair of finding any more bodies. It's very emotional day after day."
Dr. Murphy, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of South Florida, said U.S. scientists have been working on developing rescue robots since the Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people in 1995. She said it was expected the technology would be used in an earthquake, not a terrorist attack.
The larger U.S.-made robots are being used to search less damaged buildings in New York. Some have arms that can be used to retrieve material. Dr. Murphy said it was hoped the robots would be able to recover the flight recorders of electronic aircraft data and voice recordings of the two planes that crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Inuktun has lent about $60,000 of equipment to the rescue effort, said Terry Knight, the company's chief executive officer.
"We are very pleased to be able to help," he said. "The collapse of the buildings is what they call a pancake collapse. It's just not possible for people or dogs to enter the cavities."
The Inuktun robot is six centimetres high, 16 cm wide and 31 cm long. It weighs about 18 kilograms. Each one costs about $15,000 (U.S.).